Jean Louis Dion spent a good part of his life working tirelessly on behalf of children who were battling cancer.

Whether it was organizing a silent auction, a raffle or a golf tournament to raise money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, Dion refused to back down from his life’s mission.

His persistence even led him to the golf courses that his sons managed, where over the years he dredged up – using a special tool he designed – thousands of golf balls lost in water traps.

He’d clean the balls off and sell them. It was not uncommon for him to fill the trunk of his car with hundreds of golf balls he had recovered, drive his load to Florida, and sell them off at flea markets. He liked to spend his winters in St. Petersburg.

All the profits he made from selling golf balls went to the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. According to its website, the Scarborough program treats all forms of childhood cancer while providing support to the children and their families.

“My father devoted years of his life to that cause,” said a son, Richard P. Dion of West Newbury, Massachusetts. “Over the years, he has donated more than a million dollars to the program.”

Dion, a longtime resident of Wells, died Friday at the age of 79. He was surrounded by his family, including his wife of 61 years, Patricia, and their four sons, Daniel, John, James and Richard.

Dion was born and raised on a farm in the York County town of Lebanon. His parents, John and Alice Dion, raised 13 children. After graduating from St. Ignatius High School in Sanford in 1953, Dion joined the Army and began a 38-year career in the Maine National Guard.

Dion also worked for Shaw’s Supermarket for 35 years, rising to the position of district supervisor before his retirement in 1997.

In 1997, his granddaughter, Jessica, died from complications of leukemia at age 13. That family tragedy further strengthened his resolve to try to save other children’s lives, Richard Dion said.

He said his father was “persistent but in a nice kind of way” in his efforts to get sponsors for the fundraising events he chaired. Those annual events included the Maine Children’s Cancer Program golf tournament and its silent auction.

“Jean wanted to be sure every fundraiser was a success for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. He also wanted to be sure the funds raised advanced quality of care for Maine children. What more could one ask for from a man who always looked out for his family and his community,” his family wrote in his obituary.

His son said Dion will be remembered because he cared about other people and was interested in their problems. “Over the years, people would come up to me and say, ‘Your father is the nicest guy I’ve ever met,'” his son recalled.

A memorial Mass for Dion will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Holy Spirit Parish, St. Mary’s Church, on Eldridge Road in Wells.

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